Big Island Coronavirus Updates

McDonald’s Didn’t Employ Proper Social Distancing Prior to COVID-19 Cluster, Couple Says

April 15, 2020, 5:42 PM HST
* Updated April 16, 1:09 PM
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Jordan (left) sits with his son Gavin and wife Ayla Anger. The couple believes they were exposed to the COVID-19 cluster that originated at a McDonald’s in Kailua-Kona and has been connected to 12 total positive cases as of Wednesday, April 15.

An Ocean View couple believes they may have been infected with COVID-19 after ordering food from a McDonald’s drive-thru last week, which, if true, would contradict Hawai‘i Department of Health assurances that social distancing policies implemented at the restaurant had likely kept customers safe from exposure.

News broke Monday evening of a cluster of cases linked to the McDonald’s location, an employee of which tested positive for coronavirus on April 9. As of Wednesday, DOH had confirmed 12 cases linked to the original positive test, six coworkers and six family members. The state originally reported the number of infected at 14, erroneously counting the same person twice in each column.

Jordan and Ayla Anger believe that soon, their names will be added to that tally. The couple went through the drive-thru on the afternoon of Monday, April 6 — well within the timeframe when employees were likely sick but not necessarily showing symptoms, as the incubation period for coronavirus is generally between 5 and 14 days.

Three days later, on the same day the first McDonald’s employee tested positive for COVID-19, Jordan Anger woke up feeling ill, unable to taste or smell. By 4 p.m., he had a fever of 102º.

“I was sitting in front of the heater during daytime trying to get warm,” Anger said. “It came with coughing and chest pain. I was coughing so hard. And it wasn’t productive coughing, I wasn’t coughing anything up. It was just like a constant tickle and it wouldn’t stop.”

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His wife, Ayla, registered a fever of 100º and had a persistent cough for days, Anger said. He added that now, six days since the onset of his symptoms, whatever illness he has is still dragging him down.

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“We can get up a little bit and around, but my heart rate spikes any time I do,” Anger said. “If we exert ourselves at all, just walking up to the kitchen, I’ll look down and feel out of breath. It feels like we’re climbing mountains.”

“My chest still hurts. My heart and my lungs are not the same.”

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Anderson first said no community spread was suspected from the McDonald’s cluster because no one from the public had reported a COVID-19 infection with a possible connection to the restaurant and because the establishment “did everything right.”

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According to Anger, that’s far from the truth.

“I felt like (Anderson’s comments) were deliberately deceptive,” Anger said. “Somebody either lied to him or he was misleading the public because that’s not what was going on there. McDonald’s was not what I would say was a safe environment It was ridiculous. I can’t believe anyone would think that was considered social distancing.”

None of the multiple employees that Anger remembered interacting with or who he observed doing their jobs were wearing masks. Some had gloves, he said, while others didn’t.

“The person who took our credit car had gloves, no mask,” Anger said. “We expected them to be in masks. They were only doing drive-thru. Every one of their customers seemed to have a mask. I just thought it’d be important for the people handling your food and the containers to have them, too.

“They’re literally touching things you touch right before you put the food in your mouth.”

Big Island Now in March received several reports from the public of workers at a separate McDonald’s location, this one on Kuakini Highway, who were not universally wearing masks and gloves for protection against COVID-19. A reporter verified the claims by visiting the drive-thru on subsequent days.

Both locations, as well as a third in the Walmart store on Henry Street, are currently closed for business.

On Wednesday, Anderson told reporters the DOH was “…pretty sure we’ve found the cases that are critically important.”

However, if the Jordan or Ayla Anger come back positive for COVID-19, the state will be forced to re-evaluate that conclusion.

The couple will be tested at the Ali‘i Health Center Thursday after they consulted with a doctor via a telehealth appointment, who determined both meet the qualifications to be tested for the virus. Recent tests conducted on the Big Island have produced turnaround times of 3 to 5 days.

Anger said if coronavirus is what he contracted, McDonald’s is the most likely point of exposure based on how he and his wife were living in the weeks leading up to their joint illnesses.

Both Jordan and Ayla work as UBER drivers and both fell ill on March 19. A doctor referred them for COVID-19 tests then, which Anger said took three weeks to return results that proved to be negative. However, during that time, they stayed home almost exclusively.

The day they visited McDonald’s, April 6, is the first day they ventured out for supplies in two and a half weeks, also visiting Costco.

“I absolutely believe McDonald’s was the source of the infection,” Anger said. “We were at home before that. It was the only place with confirmed infections. That’s where we were, and now we’re sick. I don’t see a whole lot of other explanations given the symptoms.”

McDonald’s could not be reached for comment.

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